By Other Words
By Jill Richardson*
This past week, my private reality and the public reality playing out on the television have diverged. It’s hard to believe that I live in the same world as Senator Chuck Grassley, the Senate judiciary chair trying to Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court.
When Christine Blasey Ford first alleged Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her — and when talking heads on TV began doubting her veracity, or insisting that the assault was not a big deal — a different conversation began.
It’s a private conversation, one-on-one, mostly. A few of us posted about sexual assault in general or about our own past assaults on our Facebook pages. Then the private messages began.
In some cases I knew my friends had been assaulted. Sometimes I knew because we were friends when it happened, and they’d told me at the time. In other cases, the rapes or assaults occurred long before we met, up to four decades ago.
In other cases, I found out this week.
Often, I don’t know the details of what happened to my friends. The details are painful to talk about. They’re painful to hear.
I know: I re-lived each of my past assaults in the last week. Four of them.
To those who think something that happened decades ago can’t be that big of a deal, you’re wrong. When you’re sexually assaulted, you can suffer long-term consequences, stored in your body. My body learned early on that sex is dangerous, and it keeps me safe with pain.
Since my first sexual experiences were assaults, I’ve never once had a sexual experience that wasn’t painful. I’m afraid of sex. I don’t desire it. Why would I? It just hurts.
I’m in therapy now, trying to recover from what happened in a college dorm room 18 year ago. I’ve spent the entire past week with a migraine because of the nonstop talk about sexual assaults and the government’s unwillingness to take sexual assault allegations seriously.
Hearing people on TV say that an assault in one’s teens isn’t a big deal, or that the woman cannot be believed, and so on, feels personal. It feels like they’re shouting at me, that I can’t be believed either.
In all of my private conversations with other survivors, there’s a common understanding. We all know that if we spoke out publicly about our past assaults, most of us wouldn’t be believed either. So often there are no witnesses. One shower and one load of laundry destroys the evidence.
It’s hard to admit to oneself that one was powerless. Weak. A victim. I like to see myself as strong, independent, and decisive. If someone tried to do something to me that I didn’t want, I would resist. And yet, I didn’t.
Instead of accepting a narrative of myself as weak, I dealt with what happened by attempting to forget it. I mostly did forget it — but my body remembered.
On TV, politicians say that it’s unreasonable to hold a man accountable for an assault he committed decades ago. Why on earth not? His victim is almost certainly still suffering from it.
I wish the politicians could hear what I’ve heard in all of the private, one-on-one conversations of the past week. But speaking out makes one vulnerable. That’s why most of these conversations remain private.
Shouting at women to silence them might get your man onto the Supreme Court. It worked for Clarence Thomas, and it can work for Brett Kavanaugh. But it doesn’t change reality, or make you right.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in San Diego. Distributed by OtherWords.org.